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Solo or group tour for first trip to India?

Solo or group tour for first trip to India?

Nov 11th, 2017, 10:35 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 52,800
Solo or group tour for first trip to India?

Dear All,

As some of you will know, I am now in a situation where I will be travelling alone, rather than as part of a couple - something I have done before, but in a small way in Europe, and never in Asia. DH and I loved Sri Lanka, but I have no desire to return there by myself, and I have always wanted to go to India, which never interested DH, because both my mum and her mum were born there.

I initially and probably stupidly booked a tour with a company specialising in solo travel, thinking that it would be nicest to be in company with a group of other solo travellers. There is no single room supplement and the tour takes in some of the standard northern India sights - Delhi [1 night,] Jaipur [2 nights] Ranthambore [2 nights] Agra [2 nights] Khajuraho [1 night] Varanasi [2 nights] Delhi [1 night]. However I an having second thoughts because they have failed to send me details of the flight upgrade I asked for, and it turns out that they may not be able to confirm that for me before I'm due to make the final payment, which I'm not prepared to do.

I've also done a bit of research [which I know I should have done before, but there were good reasons why I didn't] and discovered that I can get the flights I want for less than the supplement they will probably want to charge me.

So, my idea is to fly into Delhi, and out of Chennai [which is where my gran was born]. I should like to see some of the north, and some of the south [so presumably I'd need an internal flight] but apart from that I don't have any set ideas. I like food, wildlife, culture, meeting people, and did I mention food?

My main dilemma is this - would I enjoy a trip which is essentially me and a driver [or two] or should i go for a group tour, at least this first time. i appreciate that it's difficult for people who don't know me to answer that, but perhaps those of you who have done solo trips can tell me how you found doing a private tour by yourselves, and whether there are any particular problems related to this sort of tour in India [apart from the obvious].

this would be in February and probably for about 15 days on the ground.

Thanks in advance for any help and tips you can give me [assuming we can any of us post at all of course]
annhig is offline  
Nov 11th, 2017, 10:36 AM
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[oops, that reads as if DH didn't want to go to India BECAUSE my mum and gran were born there; not what I meant at all!]
annhig is offline  
Nov 11th, 2017, 11:02 AM
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Annhig, good for you planning travel already after your husband's death!

I can't say what would work best for you, but I will say that traveling alone, I meet more people than when traveling as part of a couple. I have had plenty of opportunities to do something with another traveler.

Happy planning!
Kathie is offline  
Nov 11th, 2017, 11:29 AM
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Ann - I have done two trips to India both solo - ten weeks in 2001 and six weeks in 2010. Both were unsupported DIY, by which I mean I traveled by train, a couple of planes and an occasional car and driver booked in country. I would not do that again, as I feel that India has become less safe for women travelers (and even for couples). However, if you have a car and driver booked through a reputable company (i.e. one recommended by people here), don't wander into empty or dodgy areas, and stay off the streets later in the evening you should be fine.

That is not to say that a tour would not work, but you need to choose carefully and I cannot endorse the itinerary you are looking at. India is tough and slow travel, those one and two nighters are a terrible idea. So is Rathambore unless you are very lucky.

There is an awful lot of country between Delhi and Chennai, and two weeks is very short. You could do a bit of the "Golden Triangle" and then fly to Kerala and take a night train to Chennai. I did Kerala and Chennai at the end of my first visit - see http://wilhelmswords.com/asia2001/
thursdaysd is offline  
Nov 11th, 2017, 11:37 AM
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Hello Annhig

How great to see that you are up to thinking about future travels.

Having been to India fairly recently [albeit not solo] I would think that the areas we went to in Rajasthan and Varanasi would be more than entirely do-able as an independent traveller if you had pre=planned a car and driver and suitable hotels in advance.

Many of the smaller hotels we stayed in were most hospitable, informal and friendly with great food and I would have been very happy to enjoy visiting and eating in them solo had that been my circumstance. Also if you go it alone it is easy to book really high quality daily tours which give you a real insight into the area and some personal contact during the day. It obviously helps that English is spoken well everywhere in any tourist venue in these areas hence easy to enjoy and navigate.

I think there might be some merit, however, in doing a much shorter trip first, maybe to somewhere in Europe which was totally new to you. To do India justice you are probably looking at quite a lot if reading and research and two or three weeks minimum which is quite a big ask for your first 'solo flight' whereas 2 or 3 nights in somewhere nearer to hand may be a lot of fun but less intimidating and would give you a real feel of whether at this stage you were happy solo or whether you would prefer a group trip more.

On the India front my experience would suggest that there are lots of worthwhile things in Delhi and maybe more than one night at a time there would be a good thing, least because if at the start it gives you a chance to get over jet lag and a chance to to begin to immerse yourself in the experience. I would also recommend Jodhpur if you can squeeze it in.
loncall is online now  
Nov 11th, 2017, 11:57 AM
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Forgot to mention that if you are taking a tour there is no reason to take one designed specifically for singles, and there may be some reasons not to. I mostly travel solo, but I have taken some tours. Mostly Rick Steves (for Europe) and Intrepid (for Asia), plus one each with Smithsonian, Geo Ex, OAT (never again!) and MIR. I have always found the other people on the tour, whether singles, couples or more, very friendly and willing to include others for independent exploration or meals.

And good for you deciding to do something so exciting so soon. I hope you'll get some rest between now and then!
thursdaysd is offline  
Nov 11th, 2017, 01:28 PM
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Hi Ann, amazing you are so upbeat and get-up-and-go.

I went to India in February in 2010 and thought it was a great time of year to go. I think there might be a trip report on here somewhere.
Did a combination of solo travel and group stuff and like you, a bit of north and south. Group stuff wasn't designed for singles, but everyone except me was. I think things have changed by now.

First up was 2 weeks in the south (flew directly to Kochin from LHR changing in Dubai I think).

From there I flew (on Kingfisher) to Goa. A week there solo. Very easy to get about. Dogster (remember him?) recommended places to stay). Goa is easy for a solo first-timer.

Then 2 weeks in Rajastan with Intrepid

Flew out of Delhi at the end to Vietnam.

The sights, sounds and smells were mind-blowing, especially for a first-timer like me. The experience was like nothing I had previously known. And I appreciated not having to negotiate travel arrangements in what seemed a very chaotic country. However, the other people in both groups drove me to distraction a lot of the time and since then I have been very cautious about booking group trips. I realised that I don't travel with groups easily, and these days if I join a group thing I end up going off on my own most of the time! the India trip was a great lesson in self-awareness!

Do let us know what happens. And feel free to ask!
gertie3751 is offline  
Nov 11th, 2017, 01:50 PM
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Hi Ann,
I think that I personally would choose to go with a group tour of India for the camaraderie and to hit a fair number of sites in less time (2 weeks). Your doubts now may be due to the tour company you chose, rather than the style of travel.

I didn't like traveling on my own with just the driver in India or Sri Lanka. I didn't like the shopping stops that were snuck in, and somehow my perception of being seen as a walking wallet open to all was stronger when on my own. I also felt more vulnerable as a lone female.

Don't kick yourself for choosing the wrong tour company. It happens to us all sooner or later. Chalk it up to experience; you'll know what to watch out for next time.
Femi is offline  
Nov 11th, 2017, 02:09 PM
Join Date: Jan 2008
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Ann--I am patting your back for having made a great decision to travel to India. It will be a fun trip in every way, although, you will think about your husband and miss him as this will be your first solo trip.

Feb. is a wonderful time to travel in India. Very comfortable temperatures in most of the country and not too much rain either.

I will let other Fodorites help you with various ideas. I have been to India many times, most recently, just a few months ago. But my trips are short and just to 1-2 cities.

But you will enjoy seeing the country where your mom and grand mom were born. It should be amazing in many ways.

Enjoy the dreaming and the planning and also slowly thinking about your travel outfits. Have a great weekend.
ileen is offline  
Nov 11th, 2017, 02:09 PM
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Here's gertie's India trip:


My second trip, almost all in the south:



Shopping ops are avoidable, you just have to be very firm the first time one shows up. If you have a dedicated car and driver from one of the companies recommended here the issue shouldn't arise - you tell the company ahead of time. Actually, the only place I encountered a suggested shopping op was Agra, where I had engaged a rickshaw driver for the whole day. But Agra is easily the worst place in India for hassling tourists, with Rajasthan a close second. The south is calmer (and cleaner).
thursdaysd is offline  
Nov 11th, 2017, 06:16 PM
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Ann, I am so sorry for your loss. I commend you for carrying on with your travels. You have asked an interesting question.

I went on a solo two week trip to South India in September, and there is no way I would have enjoyed a group tour as much. I sat in the front with the driver, and we did chat a bit, but I enjoyed getting a perfect view of the chaos on Indian streets. The driver caught on quickly that I wanted to stop and see animals and farmers, so he stopped often, even without my asking. Also, he found great "pure veg A/C" restaurants for me for both lunch and dinner. At no time did I feel unsafe as a woman alone--he was either waiting outside a site or restaurant for me, or he asked me to call him when I was ready to leave (Indian Panorama loans phones to their guests).

I abhor tour groups, and every time I take a day tour I end up regretting it. I don't like communal meals, nor making small talk. The only time I felt lonely on this trip was in the evenings sometimes, but I was quite good at pestering/calling my family then, or I sometimes took a walk outside my hotel, which was usually on a busy street. It's fun watching people cook street food, even if you don't eat it. Oh, there's always a bakery open late at night, and the milk tea goes nicely with the Indian cookies. Doesn't that sound fun?

Can you get a refund for your deposit?
CaliforniaLady is offline  
Nov 11th, 2017, 06:53 PM
Join Date: Jul 2013
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Ann, you’ll love India, good on ya !

The tour does look pretty fast paced, but everything will be organised for you and you’ll have other people to talk to.

On the solo aspect, I haven’t travelled solo in India, but have in Myanmar. I would have felt very comfortable alone with our driver in Southern India earlier this year, and also the driver on our more recent Sri Lanka trip. There will be other travellers staying at wherever you are. I found it easier (me more inclined) to strike up a conversation as a single person rather than as part of a couple. The best bit, you get to choose exactly where you want to go.

If the budget stretches, I’d opt for having an Indian based travel planner organise the trip with me. India is an assault on many senses, transport delays and other glitches are common. You could see Delhi, fly to Varanasi then return, train to Agra and then the bits of Rajasthan that most interest you by car and driver, I really liked Jodhpur and Udaipur. Fly to Chennai for a few days seeing Mamallapuram and Pondicherry with car and driver before flight home.

Or, perhaps reversing the direction of travel would work best ? Flying into Chennai and out of Delhi might provide a softer landing into the colourful chaos of India.
A planner would point out the pros and cons. Tim at Indian Panorama ([email protected]) helped me plan our trip in Jan/Feb this year and I still thank this forum for the recommendation. He’s a gem. We would have been lost if not for the airport wrangler at Cochin enroute to Varanasi.

Whatever you decide, (and there’s lots of help available on this board), happy planning !
sartoric is offline  
Nov 11th, 2017, 07:20 PM
Join Date: Oct 2017
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I agree with thursdaysd. You sould do the Golden Triangle and then fly down to Kerala for the rest of your trip. Kerala is a major tourist destination and you will need around 8 days to cover the major attractions. Go through the blog link below in which I have written a detailed piece on things that can be done in kerala.


Plan your trip wisely and you should be easily be able to cover Goldn Triangle and Kerala within two weeks.
sethib is offline  
Nov 11th, 2017, 07:36 PM
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"Plan your trip wisely and you should be easily be able to cover Goldn Triangle and Kerala within two weeks."

Not if you spend eight days in Kerala and a couple in Chennai. Last time I checked two weeks is fourteen days, you can't do the Golden Triangle any kind of justice in four days. (Ann - you need more time!)
thursdaysd is offline  
Nov 11th, 2017, 09:39 PM
Join Date: Jan 2012
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Lots of good information already. My India trips have been 1-2 months and my suggestion would be to add time if you possibly can. A leisurely pace is, I believe, so worthwhile in India more than most other places I've been.

On my first solo trip 2 weeks were a solo tour put together by a travel agent there from my specific choices of placss and accommodations with transport by plane, train, car & driver, each when most appropriate. It was a good first trip, the second half I made my own arrangements having seen how things work. I'd suggest you find a good agency, not a prepackaged tour, and have them put it together for you with FIRM guidance according to your own wish list.

Next 2 trips were booked by myself, 1 solo, 1 with a tried & true travel friend. If you return you'll know the ropes but the agent in India first time was very useful and I recommend it. However you do it, have a wonderful time. I predict you will.
MmePerdu is offline  
Nov 11th, 2017, 10:04 PM
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Dear Annhig,

I enjoyed and benefitted from your advice on the Europe forum years go, and have seen your recent posts on the latest Sri Lanka threads, but only now am reading that your husband (and travel mate!) passed away. My condolences and comforting thoughts to you. There really are no sufficient words...

In reply to your post: I think India is the perfect place for you at this time. There's something about the country and its people that always gets to me--95% in great ways India is colorful, crazy, amazing and endlessly fascinating; you'll meet people who are warm, kind, welcoming and funny (as in fun!) and will make you smile.

How best to enjoy?The itinerary route on the solo people group tour is quite rushed, and if you can get the deposit back--or decide losing part is worth it nevertheless-- you'll be wise to change either to a different, slower travel group tour, or to a solo package with just you/driver and decent hotels. You need time to occasionally have a wander (which, as Thursdaysd rightly said, a conscientious and caring driver will make sure is in a nice area!) or relax and collect your thoughts over a delicious meal. I fear in the rushed tour itinerary, that won't happen

I've traveled "solo" on trips to India (last in February this year, to Gujarat) and never regretted being the lone traveler in a group of one. One trip I arranged myself, but it had assorted snafus which, had I used the company I'd used previously and since, could have easily been avoided. Admittedly, this is "just me" and perhaps it's my age, but I no longer enjoy many d.i.y. hassles like finding my own cab, booking my own train tickets, etc, to be worth the time or aggravation. So for India trips, whether with daughter, friend, or solo, I enlist the help of a great India travel planner and India-based company with helpful on-the-ground people. I was lucky enough to hear of them ten years ago on the Indiamike website.

Route: IF you havent already bought plane tickets, this is what I'd suggest with two weeks. (Just a guess, and hopefully it isn't too presumptuous, but in this fragile up-and-down time for you, any more than that away from home might be too much.) This is a more relaxed, less polluted-air way to "meet" India. Unless you're absolutely set on evenly splitting your time between north and south, I'd suggest flying into Chennai, so you can try to find and see the area where your Nan and Mum are from. I suspect being n a huge noisy Indian city will give you greater appreciation for the rest of your time on this proposed route. And starting this at the beginning of het trip will have one of your personal goals met...and will make you feel even better about the remainder of your time. You could continue south through Tamil Nadu, then go overland to Kerala, and leave from Cochin (connecting flight depending on airline). If you want to have just a small "taste" of the north, you could have a couple days in Delhi, (which, if you are flying British Air, you'll connect thru in any case) perhaps with a good day tour which will take you to Delhi's great historical sights and its old City market area. Note that in February, the air may be very bad, so if you have any sort of breathing issues, maybe avoid it.

Finally, if you decide to do this either d.i.y. or with a travel planner, don't wait long to make enquiries. Winter is prime travel season and getting your desired lodgings can be difficult.

The are many well-reputed travel companies mentioned by Fodorites. You should check several to compare approaches and ideas.
I too have gone and will again go with Indianpanorama, as mentioned above. Their on-the-ground people all over the country are great, your driver will be very protective of you, and likely become a good friend while in India (part of why traveling solo never felt "alone" or "lonely"). I've never been pushed toshop at certain place by their driver (though I have experienced it with d.i.y. hired-for-the day drivers). I could go on and on about how excellent they are, but will just leave you with the email address Sartoric (and California Lady in her recent trip report) also gave :
[email protected]
Whatever your interests, budget, or time-frame, Tim will make it work, explaining his rationale along the way. (If you go to Cochin, California Lady and I will tell you about our favorite local tuk tuk driver--originally Tim's recommendation-- who will take great care of you!)

Very best wishes Annhig. May your first India trip turn out to be as special as you deserve, however you do it!!

P.S. If you see four of this reply, it's because darned Fodors system is rejecting my "submit" click.
CaliNurse is offline  
Nov 12th, 2017, 12:29 AM
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As far as I know we have not met on Fodors, but am happy to meet you. My inclination is to say travel on your own.

Anyone who has ever followed me on the Asia board knows that I like to travel alone as my present trip to Japan and Taiwan shows.

A friend of mine and I traveled through India in 2007 for a month. It was spectacular and we did not do it De Luxe. I found India to be an easy country to travel in, perhaps not always the most comfortable but fascinating and manageable.

Most of the time we had everything pre-planned and booked, which I think was key. We traveled with a combination of private car, train and bus. We did not use travel agents, but reading others suggestions I think I would this time around.

In case you want to read about our adventures in India, including the accidental hitchhiking, can be found on nywoman.blogspot.com.
Keep in mind that we were in our 60's at that time.

As an aside I do miss Dogster!
Nywoman is offline  
Nov 12th, 2017, 01:21 AM
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What wonderful responses - I'm always in awe of my fellow fodorites who take the time to post such helpful and thoughtful ideas. and thank you all for your condolences - the kindness of my virtual friends has meant a lot over the last few weeks.

[and I'm glad that the glitch seems to have been fixed, for now at least, as as you can see, I need your help!]

Two time constraints - one immediate, another longer term. Firstly, the rest of my tour cost has to be paid by Nov 20th. If they have not come up with the flight upgrades by then, with the cost, I won't pay and can cancel without paying many more though I may lose my deposit [which I will dispute with them but am prepared to lose if necessary and put it down to experience]. So I would want by then to have at least an idea of the costs of an individual tour plus flights [which I have already worked out will be between £1000 -£1500 return depending on exact dates and the route].

The other time constraint is that I only want to miss one choir rehearsal [we're doing Bach B minor Mass so I don't want to miss that!]. Due to the UK Feb ½ term holiday, there will be no rehearsal on 19th Feb, so I want to go after 12th Feb and return in time for the rehearsal on 5th March, so allowing for time to get to and from London for the flights, and recovery time, that means flying out on Wed Feb 14th and returning on Fri March 2nd, giving me 15 nights.

The easiest option would be to fly with Virgin into and out of Delhi as I can fly direct to LGW from my nearest airport [only 30 mins away] I also have Virgin points so I could use those to reduce the costs. i could then tour Delhi and Ragastan

OTOH the TRs of the south that I have read make me think that it would be a better fit for me, and I should like to see where gran was born and where she worked, though tracking down the exact places might be hard - she was born in about 1900 though she never had a birth certificate, so we, and she, never knew exactly how old she was. I could fly into Chennai and out of Cochin perhaps? I see that that's your idea, Calinurse.

I definitely have it in mind to use one of the agents mentioned here to provide a driver and to book hotels; this worked very well in SL and for a first trip, I would really want to have the security of knowing I could call on a local agent. Are there any others you would recommend besides Tim?

So if I were to go by the DIY route, and to stick to the north, what could I reasonably expect to see in the time available? I would prefer to avoid long drives, unless they are broken up by interesting sights, and i should like to see some of the cities like Udaipur and Jodphur. I'm not that fussed about safaris [too much time spent chasing the animals for my liking] and i'm not sure, TBH, about Varanasi. Is there still enough there to fill 15 days?

If I went south, I would spend a few days in Chennai, then tour the south ending up in Cochin. [or vice versa - the flights look better that way round]. Are there any particularly lovely/interesting spots that you can recommend? I'm not that fussed about temples.

PS - no plane tickets bought so far.
annhig is offline  
Nov 12th, 2017, 03:14 AM
Join Date: Jul 2006
Posts: 271
I can highly recommend India by car and driver from our trip through Rajasthan with them in Sept 2016.

Our driver [Raj] looked after us well. We felt very safe and he drove most sedately amidst the chaos. On the first day he gave us a local mobile phone which was all pre loaded with his contact number and that of their main office etc and so help was only ever a phone call away had we needed it. Although some options were suggested there were no compulsory shopping trips! We also liked the fact that you only need pay a deposit in advance and that all the included costs were clearly laid out in writing and in advance.


I think it would be fantastic to follow up some of the places in your family history as it would give the trip an even further layer of meaning for you. Not sure if you are already a dab hand at searching for family records and info online but in case not the links below gives a 'starter for ten'

loncall is online now  
Nov 12th, 2017, 05:37 AM
Join Date: Feb 2006
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If you only have fifteen nights it would be better to just do the south or the north, and given your links with Chennai, looks like the south. (I know nothing about choir rehearsals - I am tone deaf and in school was told to look like I was singing but not to make any noise! - but would it work to have someone tape record the rehearsal for you?)

The temples in India are like nothing you have seen, and are great places for people watching. (You might watch this if you haven't seen it: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b007xwdc ) Although I think the best of the Tamil Nadu temples is in Madurai, a route like this might work better:

Chennai - day trip to Mamallapuram - Pondicherry - Chettinad region - Trichy via Tanjore - Coimbatore - possible ride on the "toy" train to Coonoor/Ooty - Kochi (on another thread inquest is speaking highly of the Coimbatore-Kochi road trip, along with a place called Valparai)

Or you could skip the Coimbatore leg and take a night train from Trichy to Ernakulam, the station for Kochi. The night trains from Madurai aren't at convenient times, and the train from Trichy has 1AC, although I think 2AC is more interesting (see https://www.seat61.com/India.htm for train travel in India). You don't need a car and driver in Kochi.

Check skyscanner for flights. For your dates, flying LGW to Chennai and back from Kochi I see one-stop flights on Emirates (which I would like to fly) for 399 GBP. Of course, that's economy.
thursdaysd is offline  

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